The district made the choice to ban the option of soda in both the cafeteria and vending machines. Now, the only place soda can be found in the school is a vending machine in the teachers’ lounge. Since the ban, the district has been taking steps to make drinks healthier.
According to Jill Funk, the district’s nutritional analyst, East, like all the other schools in the Shawnee Mission School District, follows a school wellness policy that includes goals and specific nutritional guidelines to promote student health.
Sophomore Ellen St. Clair feels the cafeteria does give students the opportunity to be healthier, and even says she prefers water to the other unhealthy alternatives. St. Clair believes students can still make their own decisions and bring soda in from home or when they go out to lunch.
“I think the choices are pretty good since there are no sodas and they serve drinks like water and Vitamin Water,” St. Clair said. “If students do still want soda they will just bring it in themselves.”
Even with steps the cafeteria making to improve students’ health, students still crave sugary drinks. St. Clair believes the problem isn’t the choices offered, but the according to St Clair students still crave for sugar.
“I think the good taste of sugar just draws them in,” St. Clair said. “And then it just gets them addicted.”
Funk believes the new alternatives are healthier for students; even though they contain sugar, all the sugar is natural and not artifcial.
“Since the cafeteria has juices, and not juice blends, the natural sugar is not all bad and will just come with the concentrated fruit,” Funk said.
According to Dr. Karen Stephens, a dietitian at Children’s Mercy Hospital, the average teenager needs about 125 grams of glucose a day, and all of this can be easily obtained by eating a balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and milk. She believess the extra sugar in drinks is just unnesscsary.
“Drinking sugar is like putting water in your gas tank and expecting it to run,” Stephens said. “It just doesn’t work.”
According to the CDC the average amount of sugar in a regular soda is 28 grams, compared to the average amount of sugar in an orange juice which is also 28 grams. The consumption of sugar, according to Stephens, is still too much. Because of this, the concesquences are still the same.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have tripled in past 30 years. The overconsumption of sugar can be linked to this statistic because kids are choosing to drink too much sugar.
“We are seeing an extra amount of weight gain in children because of these drinks,” Stepehens said. “As well as brittle bones in these young, teenage girls.”
The average teenage boy drinks around 22 ounces of soda and other sugary drinks a day. This more than doubles the average 10 ounces of milk they consume a day. Teenage girls usually drink around 14 ounces of sugar-filled drinks compared to the only six ounces of milk they drink a day. The student’s choice to drink the sugar offered in schools is one of the main causes for this.
Even though soda is eliminated from the school, juices and sports drinks are still offered and have high natural sugar contents. These natural sugars are an improvement and healthier than their artificial, high-fructose corn syrup counterparts, but still supplies students with sugar. Drinks ranging from Gatorade to V8 V-Fusion to apple juice hide large amounts of sugar behind presumably safe names and labels. For example, a small bottle of orange juice has, on average, 30 grams of sugar. This is about the same as that of Pepsi or Sprite. Even milk has a high sugar content; the small jug of chocolate milk sold in the cafteria also has 30 grams of sugar in a serving.
Though high doses of sugar are written in the fine print of many labels, tasty and healthy alternatives do exist and are offered in the school’s caefeteria.
“We’ve been making gradual changes over the years,” Funk said. “We now only serve skim or one percent fat content milk and one hundred percent juices and not juice blends.”
Stephens also reccomends the healthier alternatives that the East cafeteria offers.
“I would recomend water and skim milk for kids,” Stephens said. “There are also some good sugar free alternatives out there.”
The healthy alternatives that are offered still taste like their sweet competitors. Propel flavored water has only six grams of sugar and also contains no artificial coloring. Nestle Pure Life flavored waters are also a very healthy alternative; this water has no sugar in it at all and is completely flavored naturally.
No matter if students love sugar or see the danger in it, if the sugar is natural or artificial, Stephen thinks it is the cafeteria’s responsibility to keep students well-nourished.
“Kids eat lunch and sometimes breakfast five days a week in the cafeteria,” Stephens said. “They are getting a signifigant portion of thier meals from there, and nutritious options should definitely be offered.”